The XFL: new kickoff, punts, touchdowns and overtime rule changes explained

February 8, 2020, put it in your diary as the 2020 XFL season kicks off, about a week after the Super Bowl.

So if you’re looking for some extra football after the NFL season, the new and adapted XFL could take your fancy, bringing a new type of football. But while XFL is still a football league, the rules differ greatly from the NFL.

Rule changes

The league announced its rules in early January, and there are several differences between the two football leagues.

”What we did is listen to the fans and what they told us is that they love this game, but they would like it at a little more of a faster pace and with a little more excitement. They thought there is too much idle time. We tried to listen to what they didn’t want, also. They didn’t want gimmicks or things that were inauthentic. They also didn’t want to be complicit when it comes to player safety. So what we wanted to do is take a great game and make it a little bit better.”

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck

Whilst the XFL isn’t changing the sport entirely, there are some noticeable rule changes that are worth mentioning.

Kickoffs and punts are extremely different

You can read about all the specific kickoff rules on the XFL’s website, but the most important thing to remember is that the players cannot move until the ball is caught by the returner. Similarly, on punts, the “punting team cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.” The XFL rulebook is made in a way to encourage returns on kickoffs and punts.

If you’ve watched any American football game over the last few years, you would know it’s extremely annoying when the broadcast goes to an advert, or commercial break, after a touchdown, comes back to show a kickoff get a touchback, and then goes for another ad break before the offensive drive starts. The NFL has changed its rules to encourage touchbacks as kickoffs are dangerous. But the way the XFL has set it up is supposed to be safer.

“In college football, kickoffs are only 6% of plays but lead to 21% of concussions. To eliminate the safety issues with kickoffs, the NCAA and NFL created more opportunities for touchbacks. The increase in touchbacks naturally leads to fewer returns which means fewer meaningful plays. The XFL’s proposed rule change will encourage more kick returns while making the play less dangerous by eliminating the 30-yard sprint to collision.”

The XFL on the new kickoff rule change

Scores after touchdowns

The XFL is not doing field goals for extra points. Instead they are introducing a three-tiered point system for teams following touchdowns. It’s actually really simple and this is how it’s broken down:

  • 1 point: Run a play from the 2-yard line
  • 2 points: Run a play from the 5-yard line
  • 3 points: Run a play from the 10-yard line

No kicking points are allowed and if the defence returns a turnover, they get however many points the team on offence was going for.


An 18-point game is just two possessions behind with this new rule, sparking more excitement and closer games. we can also get a lot of special play designs from coaches coming up with plays that work for short distances.

Complete overtime overhaul

The overtime rule in the NFL has had complaints about how it can end without both teams even touching the football. The NFL made rule changes to make it fairer, but essentially all it takes is a team winning a coin toss and they can win the game.

The XFL has a unique OT system. Here’s how they explain the new rule:

Overtime shall consist of 5 “Rounds”, staged in alternating single-play possessions as is customary in NHL shootouts or an MLS penalty kick. A “Round” will consist of one offensive play per team. Each possession starts at the opponent’s 5-yard line and the offensive team has one play to score. The team with more points after 5 rounds is the winner.

They state if a team gets mathematically eliminated early, then there’s no need to play all five rounds. And if the score is tied after five rounds, then it goes into sudden death until one team scores and the other doesn’t in a single round.

There are many ways this is better than the NFL’s OT rule, It will be a fast-paced offensive spectacle that always results in a winner, what’s not to like?

Small rule changes

There are plenty of rule changes in the XFL compared to the NFL – the main changes being the overtime, kickoff/punts and the point after touchdowns. Here’s a few minor changes you could be interested in.

  • Double forward pass: “If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that team may throw a second forward pass, as long as the ball has at no time crossed the line of scrimmage. … Once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, no forward passes are permitted.” This is something that’s not allowed in the NFL or college football, so it could lead to some interesting play designs. But overall, it’s a fairly minor rule that we’d only expect to see a few times throughout the season.
  • Much faster play block: The XFL has a 25-second play clock compared to the NFL’s 40-second play clock. A difference of 15 seconds may not sound like a lot, but this change will definitely be felt on the field. Expect a much faster pace of play as teams must hurry up their playcalling. Something to note, however, is the NFL clock starts once the play is ended and the XFL’s clock starts once the ball is spotted for play.
  • Comeback period: During the 2-minute warning (the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarter), there are a few tweaks to allow teams more time to come back, hence “comeback period.” From the XFL, “On plays that end in the field of play, the game clock will be stopped until the ball has been spotted and 5 seconds have run off of the play clock.” This makes it so a team cannot run the clock out until there is only one minute remaining (assuming the opposing team has no timeouts). In the NFL, a team can run the clock out when there are two minutes remaining.
  • Running game clock: “Outside the last 2 minutes of each half, the game clock will run after incompletions and out of bounds plays.” This will take some getting used to for football fans, but the objective is to just make games go as quickly as possible.
  • Players need just one foot in bounds instead of two: Yet another pace of play rule, makes it easier to determine catches, leading to faster reviews.
  • Teams have two timeouts per half instead of three: Another pace of play change, less timeouts equals faster games.

The XFL is looking to be a great spectacle for the fans and the players, we are all looking forward to it – are you?

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About Adam Salter 18 Articles
Philadelphia Eagles fan. Lover of the NFL. Twitter @awsalter_

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